The Watch ABC app has been a hit in markets such as NYC, because it allowed anyone to stream live TV from their local affiliates. You did not need to have cable or satellite, you could freely watch as much of ABC as you wanted. Unfortunately, that has changed. Also this could be a sign of things to come in the TV apps space.
Users who have the app can no longer just grab the local signal for the ABC affiliate, they must sign in with a username and password from their current cable provider such as Cox, Comcast, Cablevision, Charter or AT&T. If you are not a subscriber to one of the supported services, the app will now no longer work to stream live TV. ABC has originally intended the free streaming to be for a trial period, or promotional period, but now apparently that trial is over. ABC is, however, expanding the app’s coverage to even more markets, and recently included major spots such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
This brings to light an issue that has existed for some time, and that is centered around “cord cutters,” or those who want to extract themselves from having to pay high fees for hundreds of channels, when often all they want is their local affiliate. Through options such as Dyle-branded devices, which pick up OTA HD local network affiliate stations, cord cutters do have a way to get back free TV over a mobile device.
However the Dyle initiative has been very slow to roll out with minimal support and momentum. Networks may figure that if free TV is more widely available on portable devices, this would lessen the incentive to subscribe to options such as cable TV. Networks make a lot of their income through cable transmission fees, so it’s not surprising that there is a requirement to show that you currently have cable television in order to gain access to live streaming video from a local affiliate.
However, locking down access to a local ABC channel to those who already have access to it via their cable provider anyway, could be short sighted when it comes to the long term. Although strides have been made to make sign-ins easier via Adobe and TV Everywhere, the fact that networks want to restrict use to existing customers could eliminate thousands who don’t actually want an entire cable package. Solutions such as Aereo are more than happy to take up this slack, so the more tightly free TV is regulated in a generation of new viewing habits, the more local affiliates may be left out in the coming years.
The Watch ABC app is a great resource for fans of ABC and its shows, and as long as you are a paying cable customer, its a free download that is worth having. But the real story may be how the app lasts over time, if restrictions are enforced or loosened up, to allow the wider spectrum of viewers.